Product Reviews

Get Your Arms Around the Storage Beast

Veritas’ StorageCentral excels at Quota Management.

Maintaining active storage and handling backups has become headache No. 1 for many IT pros. For economically-pinched IT departments, making the most of existing resources and not simply buying more capacity has lately become of paramount concern.

Storage Resources Management (SRM) tools, such as StorageCentral SRM 5.0 from Veritas, help by analyzing and cleaning up what’s already there and projecting future needs.

StorageCentral is the Quota Management-focused piece of the overall Veritas SRM puzzle. Quota management is the analysis of storage utilization; it looks at how much data is in use, what kinds of files are using it, and caps usage based on specific parameters (for example, no MP3 files, or giving users only 100MB of space).

There are two versions of StorageCentral: Standard Version (reviewed), and the Active Directory version, which incorporates storage policies into AD and can then be used in Group Policy Objects (GPOs).

The documentation suggests the use of SQL Server. Access databases will only allow one connection at a time, where SQL Server provides many connections. If you have multiple collectors providing information, (such as a multi-site enterprise solution), SQL does a far better job at maintaining a centralized information collection point. Unfortunately, the StorageCentral documentation gives no real SQL guidance.

One major weakness is StorageCentral’s inability to manage storage elements that don’t support the StorageCentral agent. Elements such as non-Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices and Unix-flavored storage are out of reach of this product. While StorageCentral has versions that work with Network Appliance file systems and Novell file servers, basic NAS and Storage Area Network (SAN) devices can’t be managed because of the product’s basic design. The agent reads from the NTFS Master File Table, which is accessible only on the host OS itself, not through a share. As a result, this product falls short in addressing the management of legacy and non-Windows storage.

StorageCentral comes with decent reporting capabilities and good canned reports. And by running these reports against a Preferred Group, you can get a synopsis across several servers. Unlike the management capability, reporting can pull information remotely through a share.

One other important feature is Chargeback, which acts as sort of an accountant to bill end-user departments for used storage capacity and other storage-related network resources.

The strongest feature of this product—and where it really shines—is the quota management piece. StorageCentral has heavy-duty capabilities to screen for the three most common types of files needing to be found: junk files, redundant files and stale files.

StorageCentral SRM
Managed Objects are a key component in helping you get a handle on storage quota management in StorageCentral SRM.(Click image to view larger version.)

Quota management is set up to scale, with a lot of single-change, multiple-impact flexibility. Start out by using File Groups, a set of file types authorized and unauthorized, including exceptions. From there, Policies can control utilization and monitor or block illegal types. These policies can be applied to Managed Objects, files or folders that need monitoring, and that’s it; you’re on the way to quota management. StorageCentral comes with a number of predefined file groups and policies already, and it’s very easy to create new ones.

The product also has services that read file headers as well as the file table information, making it able to outwit folks who rename their files with allowed extensions to hide their data. The premise here is that some users might, say, store their MP3 collection on the network, yet rename the files as .DOC, .TXT or something that sounds innocent. Some quota management products operate on extension only. Rather than using the extension, StorageCentral can review the file header information, which will store what kind of file it truly is. A user can rename mysong.mp3 as mysong.txt, but the file header will always show it to be an MP3. StorageCentral will discover that and delete it outright.

StorageCentral is a fine quota management tool. It, alone, isn’t a true end-to-end SRM, but then it isn’t designed to be. Veritas has put StorageCentral, which it acquired, into its family of SRM tools, which I’m looking forward to seeing in future releases.

The downside is the product can’t manage every type of storage element out there, and may have some difficulty against its competition, since many environments aren’t Windows exclusive. But for those needing quota management for Windows, StorageCentral does it extremely well.

About the Author

Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.

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